Fusion Media Group employees clash with new digital boss

A day after Gizmodo Media Group’s top executive left the company, the Univision Communications Inc. unit’s employees clashed with their new digital boss at a meeting that left people “panicked” and “frustrated,” according to those in attendance.

The exec was Sameer Deen, who was recently elevated from head of Univision.com to lead all Univision digital, including Fusion Media Group. FMG encompasses the former Gawker Media properties, including Gizmodo, Jezebel and Lifehacker; as well as The Root and The Onion.

Deen was put in the new position last month as the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision looks to make budget cuts across the company soon after canceling its IPO plans. Other FMG executives have been pushed out in recent weeks. On April 9, Gizmodo Media Group CEO Raju Narisetti left the company; Narisetti said in his departing memo that he asked to step down, but others disputed that he left on his own.

According to FMG staffers at the meeting or close to the company, Deen and FMG staffers got off on a bad foot. FMG staffers, many of them from the former Gawker Media, repeatedly asked for specifics about the possibility of staff cuts that have been reported.

The back and forth happened during a regularly scheduled monthly meeting that editorial director Susie Banikarim holds with staff. Some gave Deen credit for coming to the meeting and taking questions, which went on for more than an hour, but whatever goodwill there was replaced by anxiety. Deen said Boston Consulting Group, which was hired to do a review, would be around another five or weeks, but then when pressed, backtracked and said he didn’t know, said those present.

The consulting group recommended cuts of as much as 35 percent at FMG, The Wall Street Journal reported. That would drastically reduce staff at a unit that one former exec with knowledge of the numbers said was a bright spot within Univision, making its first quarter sales goal. (A company spokesman said the figure was inaccurate.) At the staff meeting, Deen confirmed there would be cuts, but said no decisions had been made about where and how many.

“The anxiety is just ridiculous,” said someone close to the company.

“Sameer didn’t have any real answers for us — or didn’t want to share them,” said one person in attendance.

Part of the clash was cultural — Deen comes from Univision.com, which, apart from its Univision News unit with a strong mission-driven coverage of politics and immigration, is dominated by lifestyle and entertainment content, and FMG, which Univision bought in 2016 to diversify its audience, is known for its passionate and irreverent news staffers. Deen told a story about Gawker co-founder Nick Denton and expressed his affection for Gawker, but faced a room that was skeptical that he understood what their brands were all about.

Another issue hanging over FMG is that Univision is integrating the group into the rest of the company. The company reportedly struggled to integrate the former Gawker properties back when they were acquired, resulting in benefits and administrative problems, and the bad memories haven’t entirely faded. To one former employee, it’s  the story of a “legacy media company trying to get into digital media and fucking it up.”

FMG spokesman David Ford said in a statement: “Gizmodo Media Group is a company built on open and honest dialogue — even when it isn’t comfortable. Sameer came to listen to the staff, to hear their concerns, and answer questions as best he could at this time. Our digital media brands are an important part of UCI’s evolution as a company and diversification strategy, and they will continue to be moving forward. Right now the company is focused on ensuring they are positioned to grow, adapt, and compete in a rapidly-changing media landscape.”

Deen agreed to come to the next labor-management meeting, confirmed the Writers Guild of America, which represents some of the editorial employees at FMG.


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